We Do Not Have a Political Problem, We Have an Empathy Problem

Last Friday during Bill Maher’s “New Rule” segment, the comedian and political commentator encapsulated the new Republican philosophy of brazen cruelty and total lack of empathy. Calling the philosophy “What Would a Dick Do?” Maher ran through the Trump administration’s decision making process.

“They know carbon is killing the planet but they don’t care,” he said. “Because the main purpose of a car is to piss of liberals. Good gas mileage is for Europeans and lesbians, and a Republican drives a Chevy Suburban and always parks it in a space marked ‘compact.”

Conservatism, he went on, is “just about some warped idea that the way to show strength is by being a dick and that, in a nutshell, is what Republicanism has become – looking at any problem and saying, ‘What would a dick do?’”

Maher is undoubtedly right, but rant got me thinking over the weekend about what it is we are doing here at the Banter, and why we are battling Trumpism with all of our might. Does going to battle with the forces of conservatism do any good, or is it making the situation worse? When faced with a political ideology that actively seeks the worst outcome for those least able to protect themselves what exactly is the best course of action to combat it?

I have to confess that my will to keep diving into the horrendous cesspool of hate, confusion and uncertainty wanes on an almost daily basis. Much of this centers around the unanswerable question as to whether I am contributing in any meaningful way and whether my impact is a positive one. Whenever I fire off a ranty piece I feel better in the short term, but get plagued with guilt as to whether I have contributed to the toxicity of our modern political culture. As Dr. Martin Luther King said so eloquently, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

There is no doubt that we are facing nefarious forces that are threatening to take our planet to the brink of disaster. With Trump’s emergence on the political scene it couldn’t be any clearer, but figuring out a winning strategy to combat this extreme danger is nowhere near as straight forward. 

Whenever I speak with anyone aligned with this new political ideology sweeping America (and much of Europe) I am always struck by their basic lack of empathy towards anyone they regard as the “other”. They may personally be decent, kind people (and yes, I do think Trump supporters can be good people), but they have bought into a truly toxic philosophy that amplifies the worst elements of our nature. The resurgence of this neo-fascistic movement around the world represents — at least as far as I can tell — a crisis in consciousness and the need for more empathy, not less. If the left’s only strategy is to lob bombs at the right and ridicule them for being stupid, we won’t achieve anything other than an increase in hostility and the withdrawing behind our respective battle lines. This doesn’t mean we have to sit back and allow these right wing political forces to roll over civil society without fighting back, but it does mean figuring out where to direct fighting energy and where to direct empathy. Because without the latter, the left is in danger of falling victim to the very forces it is trying to fight. 

As a personal test I am trying my best to see Trump supporters in the best light possible. I am attempting to see them as victims of a lack of empathy, as damaged people desperate to make their lives better and above all human beings with the same fears hopes and desires I have. I am choosing to see the best in them because they are doing the opposite. The nasty ideology of right wing extremism chooses to see the worst in people and gets its power through fear. I will not be a part of that and I will not succumb to the forces that led them down a path of despair. 

Those who are manipulating and profiting from these forces of darkness may well be deserving of empathy and forgiveness too, but for now they must be battled with a different strategy. We do not have time to analyze why the likes of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Marine Le Pen have found themselves at the forefront of 21st century fascism, but we do not have to hate them either. Because they thrive off of that hate and are expertly using it for their own gain. We fight fire with water, not fire, and this means exposing what they are doing and offering alternatives. While Hillary Clinton did a fantastic job of exposing Trump for all his failings during the election last year, she did put forward a vision for a different, more empathetic America. The left must learn from this and begin the process of creating rather than destroying — a far more difficult but far more rewarding course of action that is the only way of beating Trumpism in all its guises once and for all. 

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Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.